William Weir

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Evolution of the City Bird’s Song

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 9:35 pm

This is interesting – New Scientist has a story about how city-dwelling birds have evolved a different way of singing, so that they can be heard over cars and jackhammers and the rest of the urban din.

City birds’ songs are sung at 195 hz higher than their country-dwelling counterparts. Their contact calls (those made to communicate things like danger, or “there’s food here!”) were 90 hz higher. Furthermore, the city birds’ songs were slower, possibly because all the buildings around them cause echoes that make their songs harder to make out at faster speeds.

To be honest, I had not noticed this. Next time I’m in some rural setting, though, I’ll be sure to try to make out the faster, lower-pitched birds.


The Electronic Tones of the Nissan Leaf

In Uncategorized on January 2, 2011 at 11:29 pm

The Nissan Leaf is now available to U.S. car buyers. They became the first all-electric cars made commercially available in the U.S. when they rolled out into dealerships last month. I suppose this has all sorts of implications for the future of car manufacturing, fuel consumption, etc. But -as we are wont to ask here at 400Hz – what does it mean sound-wise?

It means is that we’ll be hearing what’s been described as a sine wave that sweeps from a frequency of 2.5.kHz to 600hz (roughly between a D and an E flat). That’s one of the audio options available to Leaf drivers; Nissan has installed synthesizers in each Leaf to alert pedestrians of the oncoming cars (since electric cars make no sound).

It might be the only car sound with its own Facebook page.

The synthesizer turns on automatically with ignition and shuts off automatically once the car hits 18 mph (at which point, road noise is loud enough). The driver, though, can turn it off manually at any time.

Nissan worked with advocacy groups for the blind on the sound. Nonetheless, the National Federation for the Blind was reportedly unhappy that Nissan included the option to shut off the sound.

From the New York Times:

According to [Mark Perry, Nissan’s director for product planning], the challenge was multiple — the sounds had to be loud enough to get people’s attention, but not annoying to passersby and not so low or high that older pedestrians would miss them. “It’s a well-known fact that as people age they lose higher frequencies,” he said.

Raymond Scott and the Clavivox

In Uncategorized on January 2, 2011 at 3:04 am

Happy New Year! And now, for my first real post, I shall blog about … Raymond Scott and his Clavivox.

This post is prompted by two occasions: (A.) My brother-in-law Rich gave me for Christmas a figurine of Raymond Scott and his Clavivox (see above).  And (B.) Anyone in the Calgary area later this week can witness the only working Clavivox in action AND see a documentary about the incredible Mr. Scott called “Deconstructing Dad” directed by Scott’s son, Stan Warnow.

Scott’s accomplishments are surprisingly vast and surely the subject of future 440 hz posts. For now, we’ll focus on the Clavivox, which he invented in 1952 and patented in 1956. The three-octave keyboard allowed notes to glide into each other, creating a very expressive and often eerie sound. Its design incorporated a theremin module built by a 20-year-old Bob Moog. When Scott bought the module from the man who would later revolutionize music with his Moog synthesizer, he wouldn’t say what he wanted it for. Moog later got a chance to see what Scott was up to:

This was not a theremin anymore — Raymond quickly realized there were more elegant ways of controlling an electronic circuit. He used a very steady source of light instead of a theremin for subsequent models. There was a shutter consisting of photographic film that got progressively lighter as it went up. This produced a voltage which then changed the pitch of the tone.generator.

– – Raymond had everything adjusted so that, sure enough, when you played the keyboard you got the notes of the scale. But the really neat thing, as he pointed out, was that now you could glide from note to note — you could play expressively — you didn’t have to play discrete notes.

Unlike the Moog synthesizer, though, the Claviox didn’t go on toward mass production. The only working one is kept by the Audities Foundation in Calgary, which restores and preserves vintage electronic music equipment. And, apparently, the foundation has lent its use for the screening of “Deconstrucing Dad” at the Epcor Center for the Performing Arts in Calgary Jan. 7. Here’s more information about it. So if you’re a Calgarian, or just in the area, it sounds like a great opportunity to see a very rare and very ahead-of-its-time instrument in action.

Welcome to Four-Forty Hertz!

In Uncategorized on December 31, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Hello! And welcome to Four-Forty Hertz, a blog dedicated to sound, and things related to sound. I imagine there will be an emphasis on music technology (history thereof, the future thereof), but I’m still kind of figuring the way.